Jesus would not shop at Wal-Mart, according to new television ads and a letter signed by religious leaders.

“Our faith teaches us ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,'” began the 30-second TV spot, which aired Friday in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas. “If these are our values, then ask yourself: should people of faith shop at Wal-Mart this holiday season?”

Saying Wal-Mart has repeatedly broken child-labor laws, is being sued by 1.5 million women for discrimination and that 600,000 Wal-Mart employees and their families do not have company health care, the ad implies the nation’s largest retailer violates not only the spirit of Christmas, but also the Golden Rule.

On Thursday 65 religious leaders, representing faith groups with combined membership of 1.3 million, signed an open letter urging Wal-Mart to “change, to become better, and to embrace the best of American values,” in order “to become a truly responsible, ethical, and righteous company.”

“Every day, Wal-Mart’s so-called low prices come at a high cost to the moral virtues and greatness of your workers, our families, and our nation,” the letter said. “Every day, America pays too high a cost for Wal-Mart’s immoral business practices.”

The faith-themed outreach is part of a broader effort by Wake Up Wal-Mart, a group funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, to raise awareness about company practices, which they say include costing American jobs by turning to sweat-shop labor overseas, suppressing wages in the United States by eliminating competition and denying workers the right to organize in labor unions.

A centerpiece of the campaign, Robert Greenwald’s controversial film “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price” sold nearly 100,000 DVDs it its first month in release, prompting Wal-Mart to launch its own PR campaign to counter criticism from what it terms “special interest” groups.

On Friday Wal-Mart released a statement criticizing the UFCW for “wasting” members’ dues on “offensive, misguided attempts to veil its attacks with religious overtones.”

Religious leaders including Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and United Church of Christ President John H. Thomas said in their open letter to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott that: “As all faiths teach us, the current exploitation of those who work to provide us with goods and services, whether at Wal-Mart or its suppliers, can never be morally justified. Under all conditions, it is simply immoral and wrong. It goes against the teachings of our spiritual leaders and our commitment to justice, fairness, and community.”

“If there is one shared hope all faiths have in common, it is the central belief that we must work together to improve the lives of others,” the leaders said. “This central tenet, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ is the bedrock of our values, our faith, our families and our communities.”

“Unfortunately, Wal-Mart needlessly ignores the Golden Rule putting our children and their workers needlessly at-risk.”

Wal-Mart spokesperson Sarah Clark said the religious leaders “have unfortunately been misled.” She claimed the company this year created 100,000 new jobs, gave nearly $200 million to charity and saved the average American family $2,300.

Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott said he shares the religious leaders’ concern about “the number of our associates’ children who rely on public health programs.”

“Even here, we’re making positive change with new health care programs that are already helping more associates get private health insurance, at a time when other companies are scaling back or dropping insurance all together,” Scott said. He lamented that “much of this ‘good news’ about Wal-Mart goes unreported.”

The religious leaders closed their letter with: “So beginning today, in the shared spirit of the holiday season, we call on Wal-Mart to change, to become better, and to embrace the best of American values. It is within your power to become a truly responsible, ethical, and righteous company.

“In the end, there is no better present Wal-Mart could give to its workers, their families, and America than to change for the better this holiday season.”

On Sunday in Framingham, Mass., a group of children protesting Wal-Mart’s alleged use of sweatshop labor was asked to leave the store property after trying to present a store manager with a letter detailing its concerns.

”This is the biggest and richest company in the world, and they’re using sweatshops,” said Owen Weitzman, a 10-year-old from Newton, Mass., quoted in the Boston Globe. Holding a sign reading, ”Stop Sweatshops … Give workers living wages. Don’t hide under Bushes” and depicting a smiley face with fangs, he continued: ”I hope over a more longer period of time that sweatshops don’t exist.”

Bill Wertz, a company spokesman, said it is not Wal-Mart’s policy to sell products made in sweatshops. He said the store is ”a target of a major campaign by union-based organizations to tarnish our reputation.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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